Politics over the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula reignited on Saturday as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi sat on a day-long hunger strike and said the government was pushing its ideology on the youth, while the BJP accused him of “politicising” the issue.
The protest was to mark the 27th birthday of Vemula, who committed suicide on 17 January creating a political storm across India with opposition party leaders making a beeline for the University of Hyderabad. Incidentally, it was also the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
“A young life full of dreams and aspirations was cut short,” Gandhi said in a tweet before he started the day-long fast in a show of solidarity with students who are on the warpath for nearly a fortnight.
Rahul Gandhi, who participated in a candlelight vigil on Friday night, on Saturday said Vemula like Gandhi had been prevented from speaking his mind. “They are similar in their agony,” he told the gathered students at the protest site.
“We owe it to him (Rohith), to (the) memory of Gandhiji, to every single Indian student who dreams of an India free from prejudice and injustice,” he said in another tweet.
The university campus has turned into the epicentre of nationwide protests after research scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide earlier this month following his suspension along with four other students for alleged assault on a leader of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The Congress leader’s show of solidarity with the protestors, however, did not go down well with the BJP, which accused him of shedding “crocodile tears” and using the students as a “political tool”.
Rahul Gandhi responded with a salvo on the ruling BJP: “My main opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the RSS is that they are trying to crush the spirit of Indian youngsters by imposing one idea from on top.”
“When you let what has happened to Rohith happen in the country, it will happen to you one day, no matter who you are. You will one day find that the same people, who crushed Rohith, will be blocking your path to freedom, to progress,” he told the protesting students.
I am here today at the request of Rohith's friends and family, to stand with them in their fight for justice— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) January 30, 2016
At the end of the fast, he asked PM Modi to pass a law to end discrimination against students in universities.
“I am here today at the request of Rohith’s friends and family, to stand with them in their fight for justice,” Gandhi had tweeted on Friday night as he reached the protest site, where Rohith’s mother Radhika and brother Raju were also present.
For more than 12 hours, Rahul Gandhi sat with the students and Rohith’s family who are on hunger strike, demanding justice. About 20 students from the Osmania University too joined the protest, demanding the resignation of the vice-chancellor.
The Congress leader’s visit to the University of Hyderabad came in the wake of the acting vice-chancellor too going on leave, barely a few days after he had assumed charge from the institution’s head Podile Appa Rao, who undertook a similar leave amidst cries for his sacking.
With interim vice-chancellor Vipin Srivastava proceeding on leave for four days, senior-most professor of the university, M Periasamy, has taken charge. This gives the administration an opportunity to start talks with the students as Periasamy had no role in the suspension of the Dalit students, as opposed to Appa Rao and Srivastava.